“You stink. You could do with a wash.”
Captain Breeya stood next to a glistening swimming hole and undid her sword belt. Captain Sanya didn’t move, didn’t reply. Instead, she pursed her lips and stared at Bree. San held up her fist to the six warriors behind her. None moved.
Bree smirked and turned to where her six warriors stood, dotted amongst the pack animals. “Let’s have a swim.” Bree pointed to the two scholars and four traders who huddled together. “You lot too, if you’d like. Peons, mind the animals and make lunch.”
Gogo didn’t need her captain to tell her twice. They had been traipsing through rainforest for the past eight days. It was hot and humid and her leather vest, shorts and boots were soggy. A layer of slime clung to her skin. All of them stank of sweat and slightly mouldy leather. Gogo unbuckled her sword belt, then began to peel off her damp boots. The scholars and traders undressed, the peons busied themselves preparing a meal.
Captain San and her warriors remained motionless. Gogo glanced at Ramya, standing at the back. She was the same age as Gogo, fifteen, and both were the youngest warriors on this mission. Gogo found her eyes were always drawn to her. When Gogo had been handpicked by Bree for this mission, she thought she’d be the youngest. A great honour. But no, there Ramya had been on the day they left. They’d never spoken, and eight days later, still hadn’t. But before this mission Gogo had watched Ramya during training. It was hard not to. She was a skilled warrior. Better than Gogo? No. An equal? Yes.
Gogo’s attention was drawn away from Ramya as her captain, now fully naked, stepped toward the swimming hole. Bree sneered at San, who scowled back. Although both were captains, Bree’s rank was one notch higher. They were not friends. Bree was ultimately in charge of this mission, and San visibly bristled every time she received an order from the woman.
San’s clenched fist remained in the air. Hold.
Bree dipped a toe in the water. She turned to smile at Gogo and the other undressing warriors. “The perfect temp–”
Her sentence hung unfinished as her body was viciously sucked down. Yanked into the pool, as if something or someone had grabbed her foot and tugged. It happened so fast that Bree didn’t make a sound.
The half-dressed warriors under Bree’s command rushed forward to stare into the pool. Gogo flung off her boot and ran to the edge. The pool was completely still, yet she couldn’t see the bottom. And she could see no sign of her captain.
“Captain Breeya,” Tonya yelled at the water. “Breeya!” The experienced warrior turned her attention from the pool to the other warriors, a look of shock on her face. Gogo slowly closed her gaping mouth.
“Go,” Tonya said, pointing downstream. “Search along the river bank.” Four of Bree’s warriors took off in various stages of undress to follow the river. They shouted the captain’s name. “You,” Tonya pointed at Gogo, “find some long branches that we can use in the pool.”
Gogo nodded and turned towards the rainforest, scanning the ground for anything that could be used to find Bree, and perhaps pull her out. Tonya wasn’t the second in command, but Bree’s second had frozen at the critical moment. And now she followed Tonya’s orders. Gogo was also quick to obey. She wanted to impress her superiors, and as the youngblood of Bree’s group, all were her superiors.
As Gogo moved, she noticed San remained immobile with her fist in the air. Her six warriors stood behind her unmoving, coolly watching and displaying no outward emotion. The other youngblood, Ramya, faced forward, eyes on her captain. Her stance and her gaze were neutral, but poised for action.
As she searched, Gogo heard Tonya shout at the traders and scholars, “You lot, stop fretting. Get dressed and wait by the animals.”
Gogo spotted a broken branch. She swept aside the undergrowth and dragged it back towards Tonya who was pacing around the pool.
“Here,” Tonya said and Gogo pulled the branch over to where she stood. Tonya grabbed it, swept it over the lip of the pool and plunged it in. It was sucked under as rapidly as Bree. Tonya lurched forward, almost flying in with it but Gogo grabbed the warrior’s torso and held her back.
Tonya looked at her palms, they were ripped raw as the branch had been wrenched from her grip.
“Fuck,” Tonya spat.
Gogo stared at the surface of the water. It was calm with barely a ripple. There was no sign of the branch. She could hear the other warriors in the distance shouting for Bree along the river.
“Captain Bree,” Tonya shouted desperately at the water.
And still, San held.
Gogo spotted a long vine wrapped around a nearby tree. She jerked at it, her arm muscles screaming with the effort, and it came free. Unwinding the bottom from the trunk until there was a good length, she tugged down on the vine but it was firmly fixed to the tree.
“Tonya,” Gogo said and held up the length of vine. Tonya nodded and Gogo threw the end into the pool. An unseen force took hold of the vine’s end and the length of it disappeared rapidly. It strained against the hold of the tree but remained steady.
Gogo touched the vine above her head, it was taut. Pulled unbelievably tight from its roots held by the tree, to its end disappearing into the dead centre of the pool. Tonya cocked her head and was staring at the water. Gogo watched too. Barely perceptible, there was movement. A circling. The vine, stretched tight, was slowly spiralling.
A huge creak echoed through the rainforest, followed by a ripping sound and the vine snapped. Gogo ducked as the cord shot forward like the writhing end of a snake, cracking her on the head before getting sucked down into the pool like a bird slurping down a wriggling worm in one go.
Just what happened to Captain Bree? Will Captain San take charge of the mission now that she is gone - was that San's plan all along? And will the other young warrior, Ramya, prove to be a friend or deadly rival to Gogo?
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